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From the museum steps: here’s looking at you, Maine

December 7, 2018

A few nights ago, overcome with stress about school, family and personal relationships, I sat on the steps of the Museum of Art late at night. It was one of those perfectly cold evenings, when the wind whips your face and bites at your hands. I stared up at the stars, looking for answers. My relationship with Bowdoin has transformed rapidly this semester—from unbridled enthusiasm, to despair, to apathy, to counting on a calendar the days between now and graduation. I wasn’t prepared for how complicated the feeling would be; I was so tired of being here, yet achingly conscious that I would miss it terribly when I was gone. I felt trapped in this four-year period of my life, yet endlessly grateful that in it I had the opportunity to grow and change so much.

I thought about this past May, which felt miles away from the fall—the last time I’d been truly content at Bowdoin. One day, I had biked to Simpson’s Point with a friend. The air was so hot but pleasant, the wind blowing my hair back and filling my nose. When we got there, we locked our bikes and walked down to the water. It was cold, but I pulled my shorts up around my hips as I waded deep.

I found a live clam. It was so amazing to hold it in my hands and feel the life, beating away inside, unperturbed. Then I put it back in the water where I found it.

In the distance, I could see the water snaking between islands and inlets, melting into the horizon. Behind me, I heard another Bowdoin student read her creative writing honors project to her friends, words meshing with the sound of the water kissing the shore.

Another day this past May, I rode my bike to the Mere Point boat launch. That day, on the edge of summer, it felt like I had left Bowdoin and entered another world. I stared down the long, winding Maine road, empty except for me. I felt the sweat stick to my back. When I reached Mere Point, I clambered down the rocks to wade in the water, but I spotted a jellyfish in the shallows, inches from my shin. As it lazily floated, I looked at it for a moment and was glad to have caught myself before disturbing it.

On my way back to campus, I couldn’t bear how hot and sweaty I felt, so I stopped at Simpson’s Point again. It’s a place I seem to return to over and over at Bowdoin at all and any hours, a place where I have been many versions of myself. It was a hot day, but the water was still icy. I threw myself in, and submerged my head. I thought about the bittersweet feeling I always feel during spring at Bowdoin, when we are so glad to be done with school, but so sad to part with each other and this place—right as it begins to be beautiful for us again.

My relationship with Maine changed after this past summer, when I worked at a wilderness tripping camp. I had a difficult experience leading a camping trip that was longer than two weeks. Night after night, I worried about my group. I tossed and turned. The bare remoteness of the wild Maine landscape, something that once comforted me endlessly, now fills me with dread, often wakes me up with night terrors. Even the view from my fourteenth floor bedroom brings me back to this summer, where I could see nothing around me, for days and days.

And yet, it’s still beautiful, somehow. Nights don’t seem so dark here in the winter, because the snow casts its own light, reflecting the stars. It’s always quiet, but after the first snowfall, the world feels silenced, like a blanket has been pulled over it. If you listen closely, though, you can hear students stumbling around in the dark, trying not to slip on the ice; you can hear their laughter. If you listen closely, you can hear first years staying up until 4 a.m., doing homework, telling each other their life stories. If you listen or watch closely here, you can hear, see, understand just about anything.

I’ve been at Bowdoin for more than two years now, and it’s only natural that I have begun to grow weary of it, yearn for something new and exciting, blame it for not being good enough for me. But I’ve realized that I just haven’t been listening, watching closely enough. The beautiful thing is Bowdoin, like home, is always waiting for you when you get back, whether your absence is physical or mental, intentional or accidental.

As I sat there on the steps of the museum, I looked up at the sky with a fervor, wanting to disappear for a moment into the quiet. I thought about Simpson’s Point in May and how, as I peeled away on my bike, I looked back, unwilling to tear myself from the coast. I wondered if I was ever going to love Bowdoin or Maine again. I wondered what home, if any, was waiting for me after this place. I lay supine as I gazed up at the sky, willing it, willing any of this, to mean something. And then I saw a shooting star.

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One comment:

  1. CSR says:

    These moments of connection to place, connection to Maine, are treasures. Maine is one of the few places that I have been where these connections to place form so easily. While reading your piece, I could picture myself during those years, reveling in the silence and the obvious, ubiquitous beauty of our surroundings. Being at Bowdoin was complicated but deep and full, and much of the deepness has to do with how special Maine is. Thanks for writing a really nice piece!

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